If you surveyed some of my clients about the best time to visit an estate planning attorney, you might think that a week before going on vacation without the kids for the first time is the perfect occasion. While it does add an exciting franticness to your plans, there are in fact a few other times when it might be appropriate to make that appointment — when you get married, when you have a child, and when you are getting divorced.
Now I realize that when you are nearing the end of your divorce and the final hearing (or settlement) is in sight, the last thing you probably want to do is hire another attorney, and write another check out of your bank account (which may have taken quite a hit already).
Here’s why you may want to reconsider. You will want to make sure that the decisions that were made during the divorce will be protected and that your wishes will be honored. Furthermore, you will want to be sure that your estate plan reflects the changes that have occurred in your life.
While some of the documents can’t be finalized until the divorce is, it is often helpful to meet with an estate planning attorney during the divorce so that you can at least be thinking about issues that might arise and how to handle them in your estate plan.
And if you’ve already divorced, it’s not too late to make these changes.
If you had a health care proxy listing your former spouse as your health care agent — the person who can make decisions for you if you become unable — that designation is revoked by law as a result of the divorce. However, you can revoke it sooner by signing a new one. If you do change the person who can make health care decisions for you, make sure to let your doctor know so they can update their records. Likewise, if you had given permission for your health insurance company to share information about claims with your spouse, you should make sure to revoke that permission if you no longer want them to have access.
Another legal document that will likely need to be updated is your will or trust. You probably had your spouse listed in various roles in those documents, which you may now want to change. In addition to removing your former spouse as the executor, you may also want to consider whether you would want your spouse managing any money that may be left to your children if they are still young when they inherit. You could name a sibling, a parent, a bank, or a trust company in this role instead. Further, if the divorce agreement requires the establishment of a trust for your children, your estate planning attorney will need to know that in order to make sure you are complying with the agreement.
You should also consider naming a new durable power of attorney, to make sure that your former spouse is not listed as your agent for financial matters. You should also alert any financial institutions that may have had copies of the old document that a new one has been signed with new agents.
After your divorce, in addition to signing your new estate planning documents, you should consider changing the beneficiaries on any life insurance policies, retirement plans and any other accounts that may have had your former spouse listed. Your attorney will want to check the divorce agreement to find out if you are required to list a former spouse as a beneficiary on a certain life insurance policies so be sure to bring those papers with you to the meeting.
Rest assured, visits with an estate planning attorney do not involve any court visits, there are no “opposing parties” and generally estate planning attorneys do not charge by the hour.
The peace of mind in knowing that your ducks are in a row — even if there is one less duck in the mix — is worth it.
—Leanna Hamill is a holistic estate planning and elder law attorney based in Hingham. To learn more about Leanna and her practice, visit her web site HamillLawOffice.com. Alternatively, you can reach her by phone at 781-749-2284 or by email at Leanna@HamillLawOffice.com